By KRISTOF G.
2021 is the year pioneering heavy-metal band Anthrax turned 40. Four decades old…not! Still young and fresh after all these years, yes! In addition to its ongoing documentary web series (check it out on YouTube), the New York City band—one-fourth of the famous “Big Four” of thrash metal alongside Slayer, Megadeth and Metallica—just released a graphic novel based on their horror-inspired, and arguably greatest, record, AMONG THE LIVING. In a nutshell, the Z2 Comics book is really about going full circle with the passion for all things horror that the Anthrax guys have always had, and took inspiration from. And it is actually bloody amazing.
Since the 1987 record—both cover and title song—was very much inspired by Stephen King’s THE STAND, it was more than fitting to give it the CREEPSHOW/EC Comics treatment. Especially since Anthrax drummer Charlie Benante is also a graphic artist (very much involved on his band’s image and visuals) who got to do a variant cover of a graphic novel starring the mighty Judge Dredd. Their classic song “I Am the Law” is, of course, a homage to the 2000 AD comics’ ruthless officer. And guess which artist lyricist/guitarist Scott Ian recruited to illustrate the fabulously grim and oh-so awesome graphic story—one of the best of the lot—based on the aforementioned song? JUDGE DREDD’s own Chris Weston, who’s been drawing the character since 1988. Talk about going full circle (plus, Ian wrote the story too)!
In addition to the Anthrax guys (singer Joey Belladonna contributed the foreword, while bassist Frank Bello penned a story too), several heavy music and/or dark pop-culture personalities were also involved in the writing of this really fun 168-page book. We’re talking about folks like effects maestro Greg Nicotero (KNB EFX Group, THE WALKING DEAD), shock rock director Rob Zombie (no introduction needed, right?) and Slipknot vocalist Corey Taylor. A bunch of longtime comics writers are also aboard, including Grant Morrison (who got his start on 2000 AD before winning multiple Eisner awards for ALL-STAR SUPERMAN), Brian Azzarello (100 BULLETS, HELLBLAZER/CONSTANTINE, BATMAN) and Rick Remender (the DEAD SPACE video game and several Image and Marvel titles).
On the art side, you have Scott Koblish (DEADPOOL), Darick Robertson (THE BOYS), Maan House (the KRAMPUS comics), Dave Johnson (100 BULLETS), Andy Belanger (SOUTHERN CROSS, VAMPIRELLA), Andrew Dalhouse and Freddie Williams II (many DC Comics titles) and Roland Boschi (many Marvel titles), among others. The EC-inspired cover is by THE GOON’s Eric Powell, while famous comics cover artist J.G. Jones revisited the classic ATL record art.
While Nicotero got to zombify the band’s infamous Not Man, ALIENS comics artist Mark A. Nelson illustrated the dude’s black-and-white origin story “The Not Man Cometh,” while Daniel “Sawblade” Shaw (known for his work for metal bands) drew the gritty monochrome illustrations of the mustachioed mascot scattered throughout the tome. Z2’s Senior VP Josh Bernstein stitched the whole thing together and did an alternate cover as well.
Comedian and sometime actor Brian Posehn (remember when he got killed real good in THE DEVIL’S REJECTS?) clearly had a whole lotta fun penning the “Among the Living” story, in which the song’s lyrics come alive, as does the Reverend Kane (POLTERGEIST II)-like character from the record cover art. Fall Out Boy guitarist Joe Trohman gets creative with “Efilnikufesin (N.F.L.),” about a failed comedian cutting a deal with a big-haired genie named Djinn Henson (who, of course, looks exactly like David Bowie in LABYRINTH, thanks to Remender) in order to become famous.
Same with Taylor and House’s “Skeletons in the Closet,” which looks a hell of a lot closer to those bloody and graphic HELLRAISER comics from the ’90s than to Stephen King’s APT PUPIL, which initially inspired the song. Bello’s “One World,” another highlight, follows a little New York City banker who’s sick and tired of people’s negativity and takes a supernatural FALLING DOWN path, gore-geously drawn by Belanger.
With “Caught on a Mosh,” the Chemical Romance lads (Gerard and Mikey Way) go the authoritarian post-apo sci-fi route, Robertson successfully channelling the most violent mosh pit’s energy. In “Indians” (from Morrison and Williams), the superhuman titular characters fight metaphorical, GAFA-inspired creatures in a beautifully colorful world that could have been drawn by HEAVY METAL magazine’s Jean “Moebius” Giraud. The 100 BULLETS guys (Azzarello and Johnson) take the action to outer space in “A.D.I./Horror of it All,” in which a “robonaut” crashes into a spaceship filled with corpses, before it gets way worse. Finally, in the final story “Imitation of Life,” Zombie goes batshit crazy with pop-culture references, in what starts off as a riff on MARS ATTACKS! You get twisted cameos by everyone from Princess Leia to Leatherface, by way of Kojak, Laurel and Hardy, the Elephant Man, robots, grannies, apes, dead presidents, etc. Does it make any sense? Hell no. Why do we get such a fucked-up mess from the heavy singer/filmmaker? We honestly don’t know.
Overall, this great and diverse graphic novel serves as both a perfect companion and homage to the 34-year-old thrash-metal masterpiece. A truly beautiful and fun book made by fans for fans, it’s available in several editions, with either hard and soft (variant) covers, packed with tons of exclusive goodies, including a T-shirt, LP, lithographs, collectible Kidrobo/Madballs zombie Notman toy and more. Check it out on Z2 Comics’ website, and read our Sinister Seven interview with guitarist Ian here.